My name is Duch Keam.
When I was 17, in 1971, I became a soldier of the Independent Unit of Kamcheay Mear District. One evening, our leader asked, “Who wants to fight?” Even though I had seen a lot of soldiers die, I immediately raised my hand. I did not care much about my life.
After the victory in April 1975, my unit moved to defend the border at Trapeang Phlong, on the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. At first, we cleared the forest and transplanted rice. But in late 1977, Pol Pot ordered us to fight the Vietnamese. I did not know why, but I followed orders.
In June 1978, my leaders—Thol, Ta Tuy, Sarom and Sarith—were called to be “educated.” They all disappeared. Ven told us, “They are taking us to be killed. You are a group leader, and you will also be killed, so escape now.” I believed him and led my group to run away. When we arrived at Steung Touch, we fought against soldiers from the Central Zone. Two of us were killed, but we kept going.
Then I met other Khmer Rouge cadres who ran for their lives, and we formed a movement. Our collective chiefs, Yoeun, Yuth, Ta Buch (my father-in-law), Ta Ches, and Ta Kuk were called to be educated.
I said to them, “Please do not go to the meeting because some of my leaders in the military forces were killed.” But my father-in-law did not think Angkar killed people. When I told them about the movement in the jungle, they refused to join. Three days later, I heard that they all were killed.
Later the Khmer Rouge wanted to arrest their wives and children, but I found out and took them to hide in the jungle with me, three large families. This was my first rescue work.
The Khmer Rouge soldiers called us the “Monkey Group.” I heard that Angkar accused us of having “Vietnamese heads, Khmer Bodies.” New Khmer Rouge soldiers, whose accent was different from ours, came to kill us.
Because I was single and had a rifle, I was brave. Som Phey, Chem Chhun and I took more people to hide in the jungle. Tem Savon, Pheang, and Yem Saly were responsible for guarding them there.
In the jungle, we thought we would die because we did not have enough food. In the daytime, we hid, and at night, we went to the villages to steal rice and kill cows and buffalos. We could not burn or cook anything at night because if the Khmer Rouge saw fire or smoke, they would come. Also we could not let the babies cry. A few people shut their babies’ mouths to keep them quiet, and, unfortunately, some died because they could not breathe.
My second rescue work occurred when my group fought Khmer Rouge soldiers who were evacuating people in Kamcheay Mear, O Cha Hoy, and Prey Tuol. We opened fire on the Khmer Rouge and grabbed people to go to the jungle with us.
For my third rescue mission, my movement escaped to Vietnam because we thought we would be found and killed in the jungle. We took people into Vietnam three times. The first time we took about 300 families to Kao Sa, Tay Ninh Province.
The second time, near the end of the war, we took more than 400 families. And the third time, we took people to Sayung in Tay Ninh Province.
I cleared mines along the way. But even though I was trained to de-mine three kinds of mines, some of us still lost legs, and a few of us were killed by mines.
In June 1978, my leaders—Thol, Ta Tuy, Sarom and Sarith—were called to be “educated.” They all disappeared. Ven told us, “They are taking us to be killed. You are a group leader, and you will also be killed, so escape now.”
– Duch Keam